Tuesday, August 5, 2008


(Maggie at around six months of age)

Here's what I was told each year on my birthday:

My parents had lived in Rockport (a small Texas town right on the Gulf, now famous for being an artists' colony) only a month prior to my birth. They rented a small white house near a school. My mother was certain I was going to be a girl and would not consider a boy's name for me. She had tried to get pregnant with me for seven years before I came along.

She went into labor on the evening of August 4, 1955 and checked into the Rockport Hospital. This was a small brick building just off the main street, a hospital with two patient rooms in it. Yep, that's right. I've been back since (it is now a realty office) and it's a tiny place. The doctor who attended my mother and delivered me was named L.G. Wood, MD.

When Mama's labor became intense in the early hours of August 5th, they gave her the latest thing in anesthesia called Twilight Sleep. This is no longer used as it causes psychosis in a lot of women and doesn't actually stop pain, only renders the patient tractable and amnesic. (Ah, the apex of 1950s medical care...) Mama said it was a small sort of cup on a wrist cuff that she could breathe into her lungs when needed, but perhaps that is hallucinatory memory talking.

By the regular morning shift, Mama was apparently filling the hospital with her screams. These became more intense whenever my father entered the room. When Mama saw Daddy, she would shift her general shrieking into ranting at him, accusing him of every vile thing under the sun, using language unimaginably profane. (Mama was gifted and nonrepetitive when it came to profanity.) Eventually the nurse on duty asked Daddy to stay out of the room because it set Mama off so. He was happy to comply.

This was the hottest part of the summer, in a flat landscape a couple of blocks from the sea. The hospital had no air conditioning. My poor mother...

I was finally born at 3:42 in the afternoon, without the use of forceps or episiotomy. I was small but not alarmingly so. It was the custom at that time to put babies into a bassinet, not next to the mother, and to not feed them for the first four hours of life. When Mama came down from her wild drug ride, she noticed I was fussing in my bassinet -- not overtly crying, just agitated and trying to get my tiny fist up to my mouth. The nurse on duty, an elderly black woman, picked me up and brought me to Mama, but being held did not completely comfort me.

Mama said "She's hungry. Screw your protocol, this baby needs to be fed." She had opted not to breast-feed, after a disastrous trial of it with my older brother, so she begged the nurse for a bottle. The nurse slipped out and surreptitiously prepared a bottle for me. Once I ate, I went right to sleep and, according to Mama, I cried less than any of her other children. I was a good girl.

We moved to Palacios, Texas when I was six weeks old and I did not return to Rockport until I was 35, when I returned in August to search for where I had been born. Right outside Rockport is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuse, where whooping cranes are holding on against extinction. As a birder, I've been to Rockport several times since -- it's underneath the best flyway in North America. Three of my favorite birds are in great abundance here: whoopers, roseate spoonbills, and black skimmers.

Rockport is also famous (?) for having the oldest liveoak tree in North America, reputed to be over 2000 years old. It's still around. As am I.


Cowboy Diva said...

oh happy day! Thanks for the cranes.

kat said...

happy b-day! I hope you get to see friends and loved ones.

Liza Cowan said...

Love you, Maggie. Happy Birthday!

la strega said...

Happy Birthday! and many more.

thanks for the bird pics


A said...

Happy Birthday from Boston! You are amazing and I love you to bits.